20200110-news-laramiecountycaucus FILE

Former Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan gets a reaction out of Hillary Clinton supporters at the Laramie County Democratic Caucus on April 9, 2016, at Central High’s gymnasium. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Democratic Party has announced changes to its April caucuses to incorporate ranked-choice voting on its mail-in ballots.

The change will allow caucus voters to rank their top five candidates by either mailing in their ballot or submitting it in person. If candidates have not received 15% of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest percentage of votes is eliminated from contention. In the next round of voting, people who had the eliminated candidate as their top pick will have their vote go to their second-ranked choice.

Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe M. Barbuto said the shift to ranked-choice voting had been in the works since the 2018 election cycle.

“One of the points that motivated us to change to this new caucus process was the idea that we had to find ways to include more people in that process,” Barbuto said.

The party’s caucuses already allow voters to shift their support to another candidate if theirs doesn’t receive the 15% threshold necessary for a candidate to gain delegates. The announced change will expand that ranked-choice voting to mail-in ballots.

Barbuto said while traditional caucuses are a fun way to encourage political engagement, only a fraction of the state’s Democrats normally show up to participate, even in the state’s most populated counties.

“Now, in 2020, with this new plan, every Democrat in Wyoming is going to receive a ballot in the mail,” Barbuto said. “In the past, you might have received an absentee ballot in the mail if you requested one, but you would only have the option of choosing one candidate.”

To participate in the caucuses and receive a ballot, voters must register with the party by March 20.

The new ballots aren’t the only change happening this year in the Democratic caucuses, as the party has also adapted to address the frustrations among some Wyoming voters during the 2016 Democratic caucuses.

In those caucuses, Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., comfortably won the popular vote over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But because of how delegates are awarded, Clinton came out even in the delegate count. Additionally, each of the state’s four superdelegates pledged support to Clinton.

This time around, during the Democratic National Convention in July, the votes of the party’s four superdelegates – the chair, vice-chair and two national committee members – will be more directly tied to the results of the state’s caucuses.

“Our votes in the first round are tied to the results from our state, so whoever wins the state will get our vote in that first round,” Barbuto said. “And in the second round, I’m pledging to support the candidate who wins Wyoming for as long as I can, and I suspect our other DNC members are, as well.”

Lucas Fralick, one of those two national committee members, said the shift to ranked-choice voting came around because of what happened in the 2016 caucuses. By shifting the caucuses’ viability threshold to 15%, Fralick said the math becomes easier for calculating the delegates between candidates.

“People felt Clinton had more delegate representation, not just because of superdelegates, but because of the way the math worked out,” Fralick said. “They always rounded up, and Clinton happened to be the one they rounded up on. This way, with 15%, that’s not going to happen ... it’s way more representative.”

There are other bigger shifts in Wyoming’s caucus process that could be on the horizon. Barbuto said the WDP has supported moving away from caucuses for a long time, though he added it would take legislative action to make that transition to a more traditional primary system.

“I think you’d have to be looking at either creating two primaries, one earlier in the spring every four years to address the presidential primary and then one later on when the traditional primary is for all the other races, or to look at finding a date for both,” Barbuto said. “I think of those two options, the first one would probably be more viable here in Wyoming.”

While it’s too late to change the setup for this year’s election, Barbuto said he hopes to see the system change before the 2024 presidential election.

More immediately, Barbuto said the party hopes to help candidates get over the hump this election cycle after seeing some Democrats narrowly lose races in 2018. With the new ranked-choice ballots available, the party is expecting a big turnout.

“This has the potential to be the biggest Democratic caucus in the history of Wyoming,” Barbuto said.

The caucuses will occur at various locations throughout Wyoming on April 4.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

comments powered by Disqus